A short story i wrote a year ago and never got posted. This is a dual storyline that follows Jonathan and Mrs. Brisby's first Christmas together, and the first Christmas after his death, when a most unlikely visitor comes to spread holiday cheer. Anyhow, I give you: A Brisby Christmas
‘Twas the before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…
…Except, for a mouse.
A pair of small, beady eyes peered out from behind the kitchen stove. Slowly, a small, gray figure materialized around those eyes and worriedly scanned the now dark kitchen, looking for other signs of life. Faint voices echoed from the living room, along with the muffled beat of music. The figure stood on its hind legs and listened for a moment, its ears perked up. Curious, the figure stepped into a spot of moonlight that filtered in through the kitchen’s windows. The light gave the figure the defining outline of a mouse, and a rather large one at that. Its fur coat shone bright silver broken by two dark patches, one on the right shoulder and one on the left hip.
Jonathan Brisby stood silent, listening to the Fitzgibbon family in the adjacent room. He was not interested in their conversations so much as their movements. In the background, a horrible version of the song “Jingle Bells” faded out on the radio, shortly replaced by José Felíciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” Satisfied that no one was coming his way, Jonathan stepped back into darkness and turned toward the china cabinet, and his way out.
Jonathan had been stuck behind the stove for almost two hours, though to him it seemed like an eternity. Mrs. Fitzgibbon had let Dragon in before Jonathan could make it back away from the cat’s bowl. The ensuing chase left Jonathan out of breath and stuck in the space between the bottom of the stove and the wall. He had also garnered some unwanted attention from the family in the process, and had to wedge himself between the broiler pan and the side panel to avoid being seen as farmer Fitzgibbon and his son Billy tore the bottom out looking for him. Thankfully, none of them came up with the bright idea of turning the broiler on, or Jonathan would have come out from under there extra crispy. Finally, just over under hours later, the family had forgotten about him and the cat had eaten its dinner and fallen sound asleep, as it often did, spread out on its back on the kitchen floor.
Jonathan chanced a look over at Dragon; the cat seemed oblivious to the world, silently snoring the night away. Still, Jonathan was wary, despite Ages insistence that the cat would never, could never, develop an immunity to the sleeping powder they fed it. Not wanting to be the one to find out whether Ages was right or wrong, Jonathan swiftly skirted around the kitchen, taking care to stay as far in the shadows as possible. Once at the china cabinet, Jonathan slid himself quickly between its legs and through the access hole he had made beneath it.
Upon seeing the mouse climb down on top of an old bottle beneath the floor, Justin let out a huge sigh of relief. This wasn’t the first close call Jonathan had had with Dragon, but it had been one of the scariest. The cat seemed to be getting smarter each time it chased Jonathan; this time had been a little too close for comfort.
Jonathan hit the bare floor and brushed the dirt off his fur as he stared at the two figures that had been waiting for him to return.
“You’re gonna get yourself killed doing that someday, Jonathan” a grouchy old voice declared.
“I doubt it. Besides, Henry, who’s gonna drug the cat if I don’t, you?” Jonathan remarked as he stared at the older mouse.
“He’s right, Ages,” Justin butted it.
“He’s always right,” Ages remarked, “But I still think he should be more careful, especially now that he’s got a wife at home.”
The color drained from Jonathan’s face. “That’s right I forgot…”
“Way ahead of you buddy” Justin cut him off as he handed the mouse a small brown package. Jonathan hastily slipped his vest on and grabbed the package from Justin’s hands.
“Thank you Justin. I don’t know what I’d do without you around.”
“You’d probably be running back to the rosebush in a panic right now.” Justin chuckled as he clapped the mouse on the back. “C’mon, lets get outta here.”
Together the three of them stepped quietly out into the winter landscape. The night was dead quiet as a light flurry swirled in the cold breeze. Jonathan could see the Fitzgibbon’s Christmas tree in the living room window, lit up with an array of colored lights and ornaments. Jonathan smiled as he gazed upon the tree; he knew that the lights were all brand new this year. The rats had cannibalized the old Christmas lights in the farmer’s attic last spring when they were building an addition under the mill to serve as storage for the plan. Jonathan let out a silent chuckle remembering the look on farmer Fitzgibbon’s face when he couldn’t find any of the Christmas lights.
“Well,” Ages spoke breaking the silence, “I’m on my way home. I’ll see you guys later.”
“Bye Henry,” Jonathan replied, “Merry Christmas.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ages remarked as he hurried off to his threshing machine like he’d left some experiment on the burner.
“What a Scrooge,” Justin whispered when the older mouse was out of earshot. “Was he like that before NIMH?”
“As far as I know,” Jonathan replied as the two continued on. The night chill was making Jonathan whish he had worn more than just his vest out; of course, he hadn’t planned on being out so late either. Still, he should have considered that when he left earlier in the evening. His mate was probably worried to death about where he was right now, and Jonathan was still trying to think of a convincing story to tell her when he got back.
The whole yard around them seemed to glow as the moonlight reflected off the snow, reminding Jonathan of a line from Clemet C. Moore’s poem “A visit from St. Nicholas”, 'the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave the luster of midday to objects below.' To Jonathan, it was a beautiful sight, but it still worried him. Clear nights like this were always bitterly cold, despite their beauty. Deep inside the rosebush everything would be cozy and warm, but he wasn’t going to the rosebush. Jonathan was headed to a tumbledown section of the farm’s old stone wall, something probably left over from the early nineteen hundreds, Jonathan guessed. It was there that he had taken up winter residence, along with his newly wed wife, a young field mouse named Elizabeth.
Justin stopped abruptly as the two neared the wall at the edge of the vegetable garden. Jonathan stopped next to him as he scanned the wall for the small plume of smoke that signified his home.
“Well,” Justin sighed, “I think this is as far as I can go, unless, of course…”
“Not tonight, Justin,” Jonathan remarked, “I’m already going to have a hard enough time explaining where I’ve been the last two hours. I don’t think trying to explain my connections to you and the rats will help any.”
“Someday you’re gonna have to tell her, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Jonathan replied shyly, “but not now, not when we’ve just started out.”
“Well, it’s not my place to meddle. As long as you know what you’re doing.”
“Thanks Justin. See you tomorrow, then?”
Justin smiled as he rested a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder. “No, Jonathan, you won’t. We went over this earlier. I don’t want to see a whisper of your tail around the rosebush for at least the next two weeks.”
“But what about the council and…” Jonathan started.
“Don’t worry about them, Jonathan. They’ll be fine without you for a little while. You’ve got a family to worry about now and they’ll understand, even if Jenner doesn’t like the fact she didn’t come from NIMH.” Jonathan winced slightly at that remark. Jenner had been using that to undermine him ever since Jonathan had gotten married. “Being a husband isn’t a part time job, you know.”
“Still, if anything comes up…”
“I’ll sent Ages for you, but not unless it’s a dire emergency. Relax Jonathan, we’ll be just fine.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jonathan sighed, “I don’t want to become useless.”
Justin looked his friend in the eyes. “Jonathan, you’ll always be useful. You’ve proven that more times than I can count. Now go on home before you get into any more trouble than you already are.”
“Thanks Justin,” Jonathan said as he turned to leave. A few steps off Jonathan turned back. “Oh, and Merry Christmas,”
“Merry Christmas, Jonathan. Now go home.” Justin replied. Justin stood there quietly and watched as Jonathan turned and disappeared into the snow.
• • • •
Justin sighed as he looked at the cinder block that was home to Jonathan Brisby’s family. From the distance he could just see a glimmer of light coming from the entryway.
“Are you sure about this, Ages,” Justin remarked to the figure standing quietly to his left. “I mean social graces aren’t your strong point and this requires…”
“I’ll be fine,” Ages snapped back, “Besides, I owe Jonathan this much. Everything’ll be okay as long as that shrew doesn’t show up.”
“Ah, the infamous shrew,” Justin chuckled thinking about all the stories Jonathan had told him. Ages and the shrew had never really gotten along, not as long as Justin could remember. The two hated each other, and their encounters were the stuff of legend. Strangely the shrew had liked Jonathan for some reason, or at least she just politely tolerated his presence.
Justin handed Ages a pack full of things he smuggled out of the rosebush for the children. Jenner had been extremely vocal about leaving the Brisby family out of the community, and had convinced the council to ignore their existence since Jonathan was gone. The dissent for what the council had done was strong among the members of the community, Justin knew that first hand. Justin was closer to Jonathan than anyone else had ever been, save his beloved wife and possibly, emphasis on possibly, Mr. Ages. Justin would not, could not, just allow the council to forget about Jonathan or his family, not on his watch. Together with several “friendly” members of the council (the ones who stood against Jenner’s position), Justin had managed to put together a sort of care package for the Brisby’s, with Mr. Ages acting as a sort of “mouse Santa Clause.”
Ages heaved the bundle up onto he left shoulder and clambered off toward the cinder block. Justin hung back, in precisely the same spot where he used to leave Jonathan after his visits to the rosebush. All these months later Justin still couldn’t bring himself to break that perimeter; partially out of respect, but mostly because he was afraid he might scare the family off, since, as far as he knew, they had no idea who he or any of the rats were.
At the entrance to the cinder block, Ages could see a small face peering out at him. Instantly he recognized it as that of Jonathan’s oldest child, Teresa. Slowly, Ages stumbled up to the door, exhausted from carrying the bundle. Now he was glad Justin had talked him into letting the rat carry the bag up to Jonathan’s old perimeter, Ages would have never made it carrying that blasted thing all the way from his home by himself.
“Mr. Ages!” the young voice of Teresa Brisby exclaimed, “What’re you doing all the way out here?”
“I came by to see how you guys are getting along,” Ages replied while he caught his breath. Suddenly another face appeared at the doorway, one that was almost the spitting image of Jonathan Brisby himself, only much, much, younger.
“What’s in the bag,” the new face inquired.
“You’ll find out soon enough, Martin.” Ages replied, “May I come inside?”
“Oh, yes,” Teresa said as she moved her, and her brother, out of the way.
Inside was warm and bright, thanks to a healthy fire burning at the far end of the room. Beside that fire sat a small bundle of blankets wrapped around another, even smaller figure. Timothy Brisby, barely a toddler, looked horrible. Ever since that spider bite the poor boy had been plagued with one illness after another, so much so that Ages feared he wouldn’t make it through winter. Ages had told Mrs. Brisby on more than one occasion to let him care for Timothy at his place, but she had refused. He couldn’t blame her, with Jonathan gone the survival of the family rested solely on her shoulders, and to let any one of them out of her sight for any length of time would probably be more than she could bear. Ages knew from Jonathan that she had a tendency to be a worrier, not that he could blame her. She had lost both her parents right before she met Jonathan, now she’d lost Jonathan.
With a loud whump, Ages rested the bundle in the middle of the floor and strolled over to Timothy. The younger of Jonathan’s two sons was reading one of the few books Jonathan had brought home. From the look on his face, Ages guessed that Timothy had already read it, two or three times. Despite his illness, Timothy Brisby possessed a sharp intellect that would probably surpass his father someday, if he lived that long.
Another glance around revealed no signs of Mrs. Brisby, or the shrew for that matter. Ages thanked his lucky stars the annoying old rodent wasn’t around. The shrew hated him, and the feeling was mutual. Ages would never forget the way she berated him the day he had the unfortunate duty of telling Mrs. Brisby that her husband was missing. The shrew nearly tore his head off over it, believing that he had something to do with Jonathan’s disappearance, which wasn’t far from the truth.
By the fire, Timothy glanced up from his book, his blue eyes shining in the firelight.
“Uncle Ages!” Ages stifled a wince; he hated being called that, but now wasn’t the time to be harsh about it. With some effort, he let the comment slide; no one appeared to notice.
“Hello, Timothy,” Ages spoke in the most inviting voice he could muster, “How’s the reading coming.”
“Okay, I guess,” Timothy replied slowly, “I already know how it ends. I wish I knew where my dad used to get these books so I could get some more.”
Ages smiled, “Well, I might just see what I can do. I might be able to muster something up for you.” With that, Timothy seemed to brighten up a bit, his eyes had that ‘Oh, could you?’ look in them that would make even Jenner’s black heart melt. “Now, my boy,” Ages continued, “how’ve you been feeling?”
“I haven’t been too sick lately, just cold,” Timothy replied shyly. Ages paid only half his attention to what the young mouse was saying. Carefully, he looked Timothy over from head to tail. What he saw worried him; he was weak, dangerously so, and thin. The poor kid would probably spend most of his winter inside, bundled up by the fire as he was now.
“Well, you’re doing the right thing,” Ages conferred. Behind him, Ages heard a muffled crash and turned to see Martin jump back, startled, as the bag from the rats rolled over on its side.
“Martin! Quit playing with that!” Teresa shouted.
I hope there wasn’t anything delicate in there, Ages thought as he watched Teresa scold her younger sibling.
“He’s almost as ornery as his father,” Ages remarked with a chuckle. Martin slunk back into the far corner, red faced. “Where’s your mother?” Ages finally asked as he glanced around the room.
“She’s in with Cynthia,” Teresa replied, “Cynthia’s been a little cranky today.”
“I see. Well, I don’t want to disturb them so…”
“It’s okay,” a soft voice called from the other room, “She’s calmed down. You can come on in.”
Ages walked quietly to the doorway and pulled back the curtain that separated the living room from the bedroom.
• • • •
Jonathan let the curtain fall quietly behind him. In the dim light of the bedroom, he could see his wife perched quietly on the edge of their “bed,” which was little more than an array of cotton fluff tied together with a sheet and covered by a thick blanket (the only thing Jonathan really thanked himself for bringing from his place in the rosebush.)
“Honey, I’m home,” Jonathan announced quietly as he strolled toward the bed.
Elizabeth turned half startled, as if she hadn’t heard him enter, then jumped off the bed and ran to him. Jonathan took her up in his arms as he tossed his package on a nearby chair.
“Where have you been all night?” Elizabeth inquired, “I was so worried that something had happened to you!”
“Ages needed some help moving a few things around his place,” Jonathan said as he pulled her back some and looked earnestly into her eyes. In only the course of a summer, Jonathan had developed a keen ability to lie to her strait faced. The only bad thing was he had to remember everything he told her every time, if not she might get suspicious if his stories didn’t add up all the time. Jonathan had no desire to end up like Huckleberry Finn.
“At this hour?” Elizabeth continued, “Why so late? Couldn’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“Well,” Jonathan replied, “It was only supposed to take a few minutes, but one of his shelves tipped over and we had to clean all the glass up before we could finish. No sense in calling me over there twice to do the same thing, I guess.” Jonathan could tell she was buying it, for the most part anyway.
“Glass?” Elizabeth gasped, “You didn’t get cut or anything, did you?” she inquired as she looked him over nervously.
“Of course not,” Jonathan assured her as he pulled her face up to meet his. “And besides, Ages would have known what to do if I had.” Elizabeth seemed to relax, if only a little.
“I will never be able to understand Mr. Ages,” Elizabeth stated. “Not even if I live to be a hundred.” Jonathan winced at those last words, like a knife had been thrust into his back. The horrible truth he knew came back to haunt him, if only momentarily. Somehow, Elizabeth didn’t notice as she continued speaking, and Jonathan recovered in time to save the moment.
“Was he always like that.”
“Well,” Jonathan said drawing her close, “Ever since I’ve known him. But, that doesn’t matter now. I made him promise not to bother us unless he’s got a dire emergency.”
“Yeah, but you know how he always blows things out of proportion.”
Jonathan smiled. She catches on quick, I’ll give her that, he thought as he drew her in close again.
“Yeah, I know. But I have a feeling that this time he won’t be bothering us for a while.” Jonathan stopped before he revealed any details. Elizabeth relaxed in his arms, feeling safe and warm. How long they stood like that, Jonathan didn’t know, and quite honestly he didn’t care. She was the only thing that mattered to him right now. Justin was right, being a husband wasn’t a part time job.
Suddenly, Elizabeth drew back and stared Jonathan in the eyes with an almost startled look on her face, like she’d forgotten something.
“What is it?” Jonathan worriedly inquired.
“You have to see what I found today,” she replied as she led him out of the bedroom and into a small cubby they used for storage.
Elizabeth quickly pulled back the cover; the entire space was filled past over flowing with an assortment of food: left over vegetables from one of Fitzgibbon’s gardens.
Jonathan was astonished. “Elizabeth, where did you find all this?”
“In the base of the old stump around back,” Elizabeth stated triumphantly. “It all looked abandoned; I couldn’t see any tracks near it, and there wasn’t anybody around. I couldn’t just let it all go to waste, I mean we need the food.”
“You did good,” Jonathan said, pulling her into a tight embrace, “Real good.” Jonathan neglected telling her that HE had put all that food there as an emergency store if they needed it. If anything, Elizabeth definitely had a knack for survival, something Jonathan had lost in all his years with the rats.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Jonathan said remembering the package he had brought home for her. “Follow me.”
Jonathan took Elizabeth’s hand and led her back towards the bedroom.
• • • •
Ages held the curtain aside as Mrs. Brisby carried Cynthia into the living room. The youngest was just barely more than an infant, roughly about the equivalent of what a human would call the “terrible two’s.” Cynthia had, however, calmed down and drifted off to sleep in her mother’s arms.
By the fire, Teresa had joined Timothy and was coaching him through another book, as if he actually needed it. In the far corner, Martin was looking uninterested at an array of small toys Jonathan had brought home when Teresa had been born. Upon the arrival of Mrs. Brisby and Ages, all three of the children looked up, as if anticipating what was coming next.
“Well,” Ages started, “Now that everyone’s here, I think it’s time.”
Mrs. Brisby noticed the large bundle near the entryway and looked curiously at Ages.
“Jonathan,” Ages continued as he busied himself with the tie on the bundle, “had some things saved up for the children that he never had a chance give them. I…” Ages finally pulled the knot free, “…came across them as I was going through some of my stuff this week, so, since this is Christmas…” the bag spilled over onto the floor revealing an assortment of small toys, books, and even some clothing. All five of the Brisbys went instantly silent.
• • • •
Elizabeth gasped as she gazed upon the gift from Jonathan. The cape was a deep, velvet red, and beautifully tailored. For a while she just stood there, staring at it and softly brushing her hands over the soft fabric.
“Jonathan,” Elizabeth finally spoke, “Where on earth did you get this?”
Jonathan smiled. “Some friends of mine owed me a favor. Do you like it?”
“Jonathan, I love it.” Elizabeth replied as she pulled it up over her shoulders. Jonathan assisted her in tying the two small tails at the top loosely around her neck and then stepped back as she looked herself over in the scrap of a mirror he had hung on the wall.
“It’s so beautiful,” Elizabeth said softly as she turned herself around and around in front of him. 'You don’t know the half of it,' Jonathan thought as he watched her. Justin was right; she does look good in red. After a few moments, Elizabeth pulled herself away from the mirror and hugged Jonathan tightly.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as he drew her close.
“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth.” The moment seemed to last forever…
…until it was interrupted by a sharp voice outside the door.
“Brisby?” the haggard voice half shouted. “Brisby?!”
Jonathan rolled his eyes as Elizabeth pulled away. “What’s she doing here?”
“She’s just making sure we’re okay,” Elizabeth replied as she walked out of the bedroom. Jonathan stood holding the curtain back as he watched her walk to the outside door to greet ‘Auntie Shrew.’
“We’re big boys and girls,” Jonathan remarked. “I think we can take care of ourselves.”
“Be glad she likes you,” Elizabeth said looking back. “Usually she isn’t so nice, you know.”
“Yeah, I remember how she was with Ages.” Jonathan replied as he crossed his arms over his chest. “She about wanted to kill him the first time they met.”
“Yeah, well he didn’t exactly help himself, if you remember?” Elizabeth shot back as she started outside.
“No, he didn’t.” Jonathan chuckled as he turned to follow her.
• • • •
Mrs. Brisby stood in silence as the children poured over the contents of Ages bundle. Teresa was rifling through the clothing, sorting out what was ‘hers’ and what was everyone else’s. Cynthia had woken up in a much better mood and was now making friends with a small doll she’d discovered. Sitting, still bundled, by the fire, Timothy was busy trying to decide if he wanted to build a tower out of some assorted blocks or if he wanted to read every book that had come out of the pack; right now it seemed as if the blocks were winning. And Martin had found a small tool kit and was inspecting each piece as if he were a master craftsman; which, no doubt, he probably would be someday.
To Mrs. Brisby’s right, Ages was busy cleaning his spectacles on his shirt. Satisfied, he settled them back on his muzzle and turned and looked at Mrs. Brisby, noticing a tear in her eye.
“Are you okay, Elizabeth?” Ages inquired softly.
“Jonathan always provided,” Mrs. Brisby started as she wiped the tears from her eyes, “I don’t know how we’ll get along without him.”
Ages’ heart sank; he could see the chasm left in her life, not to mention the rest of the children, by Jonathan’s absence. Aside from Mrs. Brisby, little Timothy seemed to be suffering the most, both physically and mentally. This winter would be hard on them all. All Ages wanted to do was try and make it a little more bearable, if only for a moment; he owed Jonathan that much.
Without warning, Martin came running through the living room toward the fire and tripped on an unseen toy. He landed right on top of Timothy’s block tower sending building blocks in every direction.
“Be careful, Martin,” Mrs. Brisby scolded as she rushed over.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Martin said as he picked himself up off the floor, “I didn’t mean to knock it over…”
“It’s okay,” Timothy butted in quietly as he began to re-gather the blocks, “I can just build another one.”
“You need to be careful,” Mrs. Brisby said as she knelt down in front of older son. “I don’t want to see you getting hurt on Christmas Eve. I’d hate to put a damper on the holiday by having to haul you over to Ages place to fix a broken leg.” Ages could see the truth behind Mrs. Brisby’s eyes as she looked Martin over; she simply couldn’t bear to see any of them hurt, let alone the consequences of having to care for them all winter. Mrs. Brisby had enough on her plate as it was.
“I’m okay, really,” Martin replied shyly as he knelt down to pick up the remainder of the blocks he had scattered. Martin then crawled over next to his younger brother and dropped his cache on the floor in between the two of them. “Here,” Martin said quietly, “lemme help you.” Ages smiled as he watched Martin sit down next to Timothy by the fire and help his younger brother rebuild the ‘leaning tower of Brisby’ as he had dubbed it earlier that night.
Mrs. Brisby settled herself back up against the wall near the bedroom door as she watched over her two boys by the fire.
“They both remind so much of Jonathan,” Mrs. Brisby said softly, “So smart…all of them.”
“Yes,” Ages replied, “there is a lot of Jonathan in all of them…” he trailed off trying to hide the double meaning in that statement. “There’s one more thing,” Ages motioned toward the door. “Follow me.”
Mrs. Brisby followed Ages to the door; then turned to her oldest daughter. “Teresa, keep an eye on your brothers and sister for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, mother,” Teresa replied looking up from her assorted pile of clothes.
• • • •
Outside, Elizabeth stood with her arms out away from her sides holding her new cape as she turned around in front of ‘Auntie’ Shrew. Jonathan stood leaning against the doorpost with his arms crossed over his chest chuckling to himself. The shrew looked like a walking pile of old rags, cobbled together at random, with a pair of beady eyes and a shrill voice. Jonathan had seen some animals use bits of cloth to cover up in the winter before he was captured by NIMH, but never anything like the shrew. The way she covered up was almost too comical, but Jonathan kept to himself. The shrew had a hair trigger temper, but he was on the good side, for now, and he had no desire to change that.
“Isn’t it just beautiful,” Elizabeth remarked, arms outstretched.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Auntie Shrew replied in awe, “Where’d you get it?”
“Jonathan gave it to me.”
The shrew turned to Jonathan, “Where on earth did you find that, Jonathan?”
“A good friend of mine. I believe you’ve met before,” Jonathan said. He was implying Mr. Ages, but actually meant Justin, whom the shrew had run into by accident as Jonathan and the rat were leaving the rosebush one day last summer. Jonathan had hidden behind Justin’s body to avoid being seen. How it had worked, Jonathan still didn’t know, but he guessed the shrew was too terrified to notice that him hiding behind the ‘hairy barbarian’, as she had so eloquently put it.
“Ah,” the shrew replied recalling the old mouse, “well, at least he’s good for something.”
“So, what brings you out here so late?” Elizabeth said trying to change the subject.
“Is an old lady not allowed to keep tabs on the youngsters around here?” Auntie Shrew replied. I’m probably twice as old as you’ll ever be, Jonathan thought to himself.
“But why so late?” Elizabeth inquired as she shot him a look that made it clear she knew he was thinking something he shouldn’t have been.
“Those rats are up to something tonight,” the shrew whispered, “I saw them out by the old mill.”
Jonathan instantly became more interested in the conversation. This wasn’t the first time the shrew had seen the rats work at night, and if she kept this up Jonathan may have to start drugging her every time he drugged the cat. In his mind, he prayed it wouldn’t come to that; he’d hate to have to explain that to Elizabeth as well.
Elizabeth just rolled her eyes as she turned toward Jonathan. “Auntie Shrew, conspiracy theorist,” she whispered. Jonathan burst out coughing to cover up his laughter, and the shrew glared at both of them like she was ready to strangle someone.
“Don’t come crying to me when one of those hairy barbarians come after you!” the shrew shouted as she pointed a shaky finger at Jonathan. Clearly Elizabeth had touched off the hair trigger with her comment. For a moment everything became tense, almost deafening. Then, without warning, the shrew turned abruptly and stormed off, ranting about how no one respected her anymore.
Elizabeth watched amused for a few moments, then turned back toward Jonathan. “ ‘The rats are up to something.’” She laughed, “Where does she get those crazy ideas?”
“You know, she may be right. Those rats may actually be up to something.” Jonathan said trying to hide the truth in his voice.
“Even if they were,” Elizabeth stated, “I doubt it would concern you or me.”
• • • •
Mrs. Brisby followed Ages around behind the cinder block. Clouds had moved in this evening and a light snow had begun to fall around them. It seemed quite beautiful to Mrs. Brisby, despite the cold. The snow itself seemed to be holding a certain amount of heat in, like a blanket over the ground. Ages stopped by a small hump of grass and snow a short distance behind the cinder block and knelt down.
“I don’t know if Jonathan had a chance to show you this…” For a few moments he seemed to fumble with something, then, with a muffled click a section of the heap seemed to come open like a hatch, revealing a small stockpile of food hidden beneath. Mrs. Brisby gasped at the sight, as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“He put this together late last summer in case anything happened to him and you couldn’t find food.” Ages continued. He could see the disbelief in Mrs. Brisby’s eyes. For a moment she just stood there, staring at the assortment of peas, corn, carrots and other vegetables like they were gold bullion, and to her they were just as valuable, if not more so.
“Oh, Jonathan,” Mrs. Brisby sighed, “He always had something planned. Thank you, Mr. Ages. Thank you so much.”
“This is the least I can do for a dear friend,” Ages replied as he reset the cover and rubbed his arms to get the blood flowing through them again. “There should be enough in there to last you a couple months at least.” The truth was, and Ages didn’t tell her, that Justin had again conspired behind the council’s back to keep watch on that store all winter so that the Brisby family would never starve.
Ages finished tying down the hatch and stood up, dusting the snow off his knees. He turned back to Mrs. Brisby, who again had tears in her eyes. Slowly, she approached him and wrapped him up in a deep hug that he wasn’t expecting.
“I don’t know what we’d do without you,” Mrs. Brisby said softly, “You’ve been so helpful to us since…”
“Like I said,” Ages started as he peeled her arms from around his body, “Jonathan was a dear friend, and so are you. This is the least I can do. If you ever need anything, and I mean anything, don’t hesitate to ask.
Mrs. Brisby started to say something, but was cut off by a loud crash coming from inside the house, followed by a scolding young voice yelling “Martin!”
“I’d better get back inside,” Mrs. Brisby said rushing off around the cinder block. Ages followed slowly, pausing before he starts in the door. Slowly he scanned the farm between him and the rosebush. In the distance, a tall, slender figure paced a small circle in the field. The figure stopped and looked up at Ages, then waved to him as if the figure had known it was being observed. Ages stifled a wave back, knowing that if he did so someone might see him. Hastily, Ages turned and stepped back into the warmth of the Brisby home.
• • • •
Jonathan crossed into the bedroom carrying an armful of wood for the fire. Their supply was running a bit low, and he would probably have to scout for some this week. In a way, he cursed himself for not being more firm with his stance against Jenner. The warmth of the rosebush seemed very inviting right about now. Jonathan quickly stacked his load near the fireplace, then threw another log on the fire.
Elizabeth had pulled the comforter off their bed and wrapped herself up in it on the floor by near the fire. Her new cape hung loosely on a peg on the wall. To Jonathan, Elizabeth seemed to glow in the firelight as if she were an angel. Jonathan sat down beside her and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close. Elizabeth pulled the comforter open and wrapped it around both of them.
“Now,” Elizabeth whispered as her shining blue eyes gazed deeply into his. “Where were we?”
“Right about here,” Jonathan replied taking her up into a deep kiss.
• • • •
The fire flared slowly, casting a fading glow about the living room. With much cajoling, not to mention some kicking and screaming, Mrs. Brisby had managed to get all four children to bed. Tomorrow was a new day, and they could spend all of it rediscovering their new toys. The living room looked like Christmas morning, with things strewn about the floor as if a storm had come through and thrashed the place.
While the children had played, Mrs. Brisby and Ages had sat quietly reminiscing about Jonathan. Ages guessed that she would probably never get over his disappearance, but who was he to blame her. He had had a family once, before NIMH, and he never really got over losing them. It was hard, horribly so, and over the years it had tended to make him bitter, which was why he always seemed like a grouch to everyone.
“Do you want any help with this mess?” Ages inquired as he scanned the living room. “I mean I am sort of responsible for it.”
“No,” Mrs. Brisby replied, “I’ll get it in the morning. Thank you, though. You’ve been so kind to us.”
“It’s no problem, really.” Ages looked at the old watch Jonathan had hung on the far wall. The hands indicated that it was approaching midnight. “Well, my lady, I must be off. I need to get home before it gets too late,” Ages stated as he stood up and started toward the door.
“Let me come with you…” Mrs. Brisby started as she rose to follow him.
“No, my dear. Your children need you. I’ll be fine, trust me.”
“But what about Dragon, or other wild animals…”
“They always put the cat in at night,” Ages stated as he neared the door, “and most wild animals steer clear of the farm. Don’t worry about me.” Ages could tell she still wasn’t satisfied as he headed out the door and into the snow. In the distance he could just make out Justin’s silhouette through the snow. Ages turned and looked back at Mrs. Brisby, who was standing worriedly in the doorway.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Brisby,” Ages shouted back, “Take care of that family of yours.”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Ages,” Mrs. Brisby replied, “And be careful.”
Mrs. Brisby stood silently in the doorway and watched Mr. Ages until he disappeared. Despite his reassurances, she was still worried. The farm was a dangerous place, especially at night. Finally, she turned and drifted back inside. Quietly she lifted the curtain and peeked into the bedroom. All four of the children were nestled snug in their beds as they slept quietly.
Mrs. Brisby made her way to her own bed and pulled off her cape. She stared at it for a moment as she hung it next to her bed. The red tailored fabric had become tattered over the last year, but she just couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. Quickly, Mrs. Brisby slipped into bed and pulled the covers up over herself. The heavy blanket Jonathan had brought to their winter home last year lay on top. Mrs. Brisby couldn’t remember how many times she and Jonathan had lay there, together, under that very blanket. To think about it made her heart ache.
As she rolled over and doused the candle on her nightstand, Mrs. Brisby thought about Jonathan. Then, silently, she whispered, “Thank you, Jonathan. Wherever you are.”
• • • •
“Are you sure helping the Brisbys is such a good idea?” Mr. Ages inquired as he yanked the door to his home in the threshing machine open. “I mean, if Jenner finds out he’ll use it to undermine you just like he did Jonathan.”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” Justin replied as he helped the older mouse up and inside. “Besides, like you said, it’s the least we owe Jonathan for what he did for us.”
“Still,” Ages remarked looking down at Justin, “it’s risky. If she sees you or someone else trying to fill that cache, you may startle her into not using it, or worse…”
“Jonathan put that cache there for a reason: it’s the block’s one major blind spot,” Justin reassured, “Don’t worry, Henry, we’ve got it handled.”
“Still, be careful,” Ages remarked as he turned inside.
“I will, trust me.” Justin replied. “Oh, Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Ages snapped back. “Now go home.” The door slammed shut behind the old mouse, leaving Justin alone outside.
Justin turned and headed for the farmhouse. As he walked he glanced out across the field toward the Brisby home, and could just barely make out the small plume of smoke from their fire. Justin sighed and picked up his pace; he still had some things to do before he went on duty for the night.
• • • •
In the dead of the night, Elizabeth could feel Jonathan’s arms around her, holding her close. Shadows danced around them as the two relaxed, bathed in a soft glow of the fire. Together they lay, huddled on the floor by the fireplace, watching the fire flicker and wane in the night.
Jonathan turned from the fire and gazed on Elizabeth; to his eyes, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He never wanted to lose her, not for everything in the world.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Brisby,” Jonathan whispered as he kissed her on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Jonathan,” Elizabeth replied as she returned the kiss.
* * * *
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.